AUSTIN – With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend and summertime temperatures, Texans may be getting out on the water. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) inland fisheries and law enforcement staff are urging boaters to do their part to fight back against aquatic invasive species, such as giant salvinia and zebra mussels, threatening Texas lakes.
“There’s no doubt that Texans love their lakes,” said John Findeisen, TPWD Brookeland Aquatic Habitat Enhancement team lead. “But we also need Texans to help protect their lakes, and the best way to do that is by properly cleaning, draining and drying boats and equipment every time they leave the water.”
Giant salvinia, a highly invasive, free-floating aquatic fern that can double in size in less than a week, is one of the major threats to aquatic ecosystems. The invasive plant produces thick mats making fishing, boating, swimming and other water recreation nearly impossible.
Giant salvinia is currently present on 17 East Texas lakes and numerous rivers, creeks, and marshes between Houston and Beaumont. While giant salvinia is currently not limiting angling or boating access in Texas public waters, there is still a chance of plants hitchhiking from one lake to another on a boat, trailer, or other equipment. Boaters need to remove all plants, mud and debris from boats, trailers, vehicles and gear and drain the water from all equipment and on-board receptacles before leaving the lake to prevent giant salvinia and other invasive species from spreading.
Zebra mussels join giant salvinia as a top concern for Texas. Currently, zebra mussels are found in 30 Texas lakes across five river basins as well as in river reaches downstream of infested lakes. These invaders can litter shorelines with sharp shells, impact recreation, harm aquatic life, damage boats and clog water intakes.
“Boaters can help keep zebra mussels and other invasive species from being moved and harming more lakes by taking a few minutes to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment before they leave the lake,” said Monica McGarrity, TPWD Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management. “Taking just a few minutes for these simple steps can make a huge difference in our efforts to protect and preserve Texas lakes for future generations.”
If you have stored your boat on the water at a lake with zebra mussels, it may also be infested. Before moving it to another lake, call TPWD at (512) 389-4848 for guidance on decontamination. A status map of these lakes can be found at tpwd.texas.gov/zebramussels.
On top of the harm these organisms can cause to aquatic ecosystems and the recreational experience at lakes, the transport of aquatic invasive species can result in legal trouble for boaters. Transporting prohibited invasive species in Texas is illegal and punishable with a fine of up to $500 per violation. Boaters are also required to drain all water from their boat and onboard receptacles, including bait buckets, before leaving or approaching a body of fresh water.
For more information on how to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment, visit the TPWD YouTube channel for a short instructional video. To learn more about giant salvinia, zebra mussels and other invasive species in Texas, visit tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/stop-invasives/.
TPWD and partners monitor for invasive species in Texas lakes, but anyone who finds them in lakes where they haven’t been found before or who spots them on boats, trailers or equipment that is being moved should help identify and prevent new introductions by reporting the sighting to TPWD at (512) 389-4848 or by emailing photos and location information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public is encouraged to check with the managing authority of the waterbody they intend to visit for any local ordinances in place. Also, boaters should continue to maintain a safe social distance while on the water in accordance with recommended public health guidelines. All boating laws are still in effect, including the requirement of having life jackets and wearing the kill switch tether while on the water.